We need a new Internet because the current one is broken. It's a multivariate problem.
The attention economy
Starting out, the web didn't have a way for exchanging value. People weren't keen on pulling out credit cards online. So the default business model became to attract users with free stuff and sell access to their eyeballs: advertising.
Attention became the Internet's native currency. Sites compete for it with algorithmically generated content loops you can't stop scrolling and headlines you can't stop clicking.
Farming attention isn't new. The business of media has always been to keep you watching. To actually inform might get you to tune out and take action in the physical world.
But watching TV we are at least synced within the same self-perpetuating loop of opinions.
On web2, we are each fed a personalised diet of whatever triggers us most. Different opinions have become different facts. And as your alternative reality clashes with mine, Facebook's stock price goes up. The bigger the fire, the higher the profits. Social media brings the world together to tear it apart. Because it's good for business.
When clicks equal revenue, there is no incentive to tell the truth. The result is clickbait, misinformation, fake news, ad blockers, and ad blocker-blockers.
The Internet is owned
Platforms own everything you create online. That includes the profile data you fill out, the behavioural data you generate, and the images, videos, songs, status updates and comments you upload. Whatever you do on platform turf is platform property.
Quite literally: whenever you upload anything to an internet platform, the file is copied onto its servers and ownership is passed to the company. It becomes the raw material algorithms mine to generate the attention advertisers pull out their wallets for. You sow, the platform reaps.
There are returns for you too, to be sure. We wouldn't play ball if there weren't. Sharing content online builds reputation, audiences and connections. The kind of social capital that can be monetised in its own right. Artists and creators never had such instant access to so many potential fans.
Still, all of it happens not thanks to but by mercy of the platforms. They own both your work and your followers. You'd lose it all if you'd left to try and make it outside the walls. And so you have no choice but to keep turning the wheels of their money making machine.
Deplatforming & censorship
When Twitter and Facebook banned Donald Trump, he told his supporters to follow him to Parler. Next thing Apple and Google removed Parler's mobile app from their app stores. Whereupon Amazon delivered the final blow by kicking Parler's website from its hosting servers. Trump is digitally homeless.
Here's how that works.
Close to 90% of the web is stored with four hosting providers, the biggest of which is Amazon Web Services (AWS). Their datacentres run the sites and apps we use everyday: Facebook, Twitter, Airbnb, Uber, Reddit, Netflix and so on. We access them through browsers (web) and download them from app stores (mobile).
These companies control the gates to the global marketplace of ideas. You play by their rules or don't play at all. They ban your accounts, your apps, your websites.
Even if you behave, you can still be guilty of living in the wrong place. Censorship is easy when all it takes is blocking a handful central servers, as governments know all too well. Take China's Great Firewall: as effective at keeping state secrets as at keeping Facebook, Twitter, Google and Wikipedia from its citizens. If (when) Russia and India erect their own versions, the global marketplace of ideas will have lost 3 billion human minds.
An interconnected economy that combines decentralised data creation with centralised storage provides enormous rewards for hackers.
Billions of devices uploading their data to a handful of giant data centres is like a central bank with infinite doors to break in. It means I could steal your bank credentials by hacking my neighbour's smart fridge. It means Russian cyberterrorists can freeze ATMs, shut down railroads and paralyse hospitals in Ukraine by taking control of outdated Windows computers.
Today's web is a chilling case of the maxim that a system can only ever be as secure as its weakest link. The crucial flaw is that the weakest link can't be fixed because new links are added every day. By design, the solution can never match the scale of the problem. And as commerce becomes ever more peer-to-peer and device-to-device, the problem is bound to snowball into systemic bankruptcy.
Cybersecurity in its current form is a Sisyphus Myth: we keep pushing a boulder up a hill only to have it roll back down because it's too heavy. Here are the numbers. Cybersecurity pushes about $123 billion every year. The cybercrime boulder is projected to weigh $10.5 trillion in yearly damages by 2025. The greatest transfer of economic wealth in history.
Data breaches are the new standard for privacy. Cyberterrorism the new normal of geopolitics. A centralised internet poses a permanent risk.